There’s a scene in Sisters — the new comedy starring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, written by SNL writing legend Paula Pell — in which Poehler and Fey’s characters, Maura and Kate (as the title implies, they are sisters) do a riff on the “paging Mr. Herman, Mr. P.W. Herman” line from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Now, considering that James Brolin plays their father in Sisters (Mr. P.W. Herman himself), one overthinking film writer (me) might just assume this joke was there as a shout out to Brolin. As it turns out, Poehler had never made the connection. (It really was just an off-the-cuff line.) But it leads to a humorous exchange in which neither of us knows what the other person is talking about at first.
Sisters is decidedly an R-rated movie. This isn’t one of those, “We have no idea how we didn’t get a PG-13” situations: There’s a lot of cussing — Dianne Wiest, who plays their mother, says a very interesting word — and there’s a lot of drug use. It’s like an ‘80s party movie. Most of the movie takes place at Maura and Kate’s childhood home, as they throw one last party with all their old high school friends in the days before their parents sell the house.
Ahead, Poehler talks about why people in their forties also need to party more often, how a dance-off set to Snow’s “Informer” leads to her theory that Drake is stalking her, and how she really wants to play an instrument with Bruce Springsteen when she hosts SNL with Tina Fey on Dec. 19. Also, Poehler is adamant that Inside Out (which received a Golden Globe nomination today) should also get a nomination for a Best Picture Academy Award.
I am happy Paula Pell wrote this.
Here’s the thing about Paula: In a room filed with very funny people, some would say maybe some of the funniest people, Paula is the funniest. I’ve never seen anyone, from Lorne Michaels to Steve Martin to Alec Baldwin to Melissa McCarthy, laugh as hard as they do at Paula. She has this very rare combination of being a really sharp, clever writer who can write for other people, but also being able to do bit after bit.
Did you know her before SNL?
No, not before SNL…
When you came on SNL in 2001, she had been there since 1995. What was it like working with her when you were brand new?
Yeah, Paula was the big cheese.
Bill Hader remembers on his first week, Seth Meyers asked if he wanted to go to a comic book store and it made him feel welcome. Was this similar?
I remember when I did my first “Update” run-through, it was rehearsal. And I did a joke that didn’t go well and it just kind of sent me into a spiral. I remember walking off and feeling really stressed out and just that first night, new job jitters. And I just walked right into Paula’s office. Paula is the one you walk in to get comforted by. But, she also is this killer. She is a total comedy killer. And she continues to prove my theory that the most talented are the easiest to work with. [Laughs.] Because truly talented people don’t have to use smoke and mirrors, and they usually aren’t neurotic about “Am I going to have another good idea?” So, they’re like, “Yeah, here, take this idea, let’s collaborate” – because they’re just not stressed that this is their last good idea.
Sisters reminds me a lot of the Tom Hanks movie, Bachelor Party. Most of the movie is a party. It’s like an ‘80s movie. Does that make sense?
Yeah! It totally does. I take that as a compliment. I love ‘80s movies.
With some The Money Pit thrown in.
Yeah! Totally! And that is the thing about house parties, and what I love about the film, as the night progresses, this house turns, from this beautiful place where this family has grown up together, to just this hell house. We shot a lot of it in order…
So, like us, you’re getting the calm Bobby Moynihan scenes before you see the crazy, “I’m on drugs,” stuff.
Totally. And we kind of had the bad party first and the set is decorated and you’re like, “Oh, this is nice.” And then the next day you come in and what you have done has stayed. It starts to smell like it looks.
As an audience, we know what you and Tina Fey are like when you two are together. But this is different. It’s an R-rated movie and both of you are cussing, which you couldn’t do on network television.
I think women and women with daughters and sisters should not be afraid to see the movie, because it’s not like you’re going to see Tina and I doing things that you don’t want to see us do. But, what’s fun, we get to loosen up the reins a little bit and go wild in terms of big physical stuff. Like a lot of language in it…
Again, it’s a rated R ‘80s party movie. And you get to dance to Snow’s “Informer.”
And we get to dance to Snow. I should fact-check this — it would just take five minutes of fact-checking, but we are so lazy, we haven’t done it — at the very end of the “Hotline Bling” video, Drake’s video, we think we see our choreographer, Tanisha Scott, at the very end. [Note: We looked this up and Poehler is correct. –ed.] And if that is the case, there is a very good chance our choreographer on the film also worked on the “Hotline Bling” video. And what I’m saying then is that Drake is stalking me.
Partygoers decide to climb a brick wall inside the house for no reason. In high school and college, I observed many similar instances.
I love the point in the movie that parties are kind of wasted on the young. You know, people in their forties need them more. They need to let loose. They have more pressure. They have more shit happening — they’re taking care of their parents, they have job responsibilities, they are taking care of their kids. And they also can party better — more effectively and more efficiently.
I agree with all of this.
Right? So, there’s all this feeling of, “We should let these kids go for it…”
They’re fine! Let us have it!
Paula Pell was very proud of a word she got Dianne Wiest to say in the movie.
“I’m cuntingly disappointed in you.” [Laughs.] That was an amazing moment to have Dianne do and say. Also, it’s so great, because Dianne and James Brolin are such great actors and we just loved being around them. And they are so sweet as a couple, that when Dianne was really yelling at me, I was feeling really bad.
There’s a scene when you and Tina Fey do the “paging Mr. Herman,” line from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.
Oh, yeah, I think we improvised that.
Is that because James Brolin’s in the movie?
Oh! No? I think I was just trying to think of a line?
Because he’s P.W. Herman in that scene.
Oh, my God.
Remember, dashing James Brolin with the beard walks in.
Holy shit! I never made that connection, Mike! That’s why you’re the professional! You’re the first one to point that out to me.
I assumed it was an Easter egg type thing.
You know what, should we pretend it is? I can’t get away with it.
If someone else brings it up, just say, “Well, obviously. I’m glad you caught that.”
No way. I think you should put in the article that you get credit for finding it.
I honestly thought it was intentional. We see James Brolin right after you two do that.
Oh, my gosh, that’s wild. I’m remembering it now, but I never put it together. You’re giving me too much credit.
Inside Out is starting to win awards.
I’m really excited. I want them to get a Best Picture nomination, not just Best Animated Picture.
People love that movie. It is still something people are talking about.
Oh, I know. It’s so good. If only I could give out the awards, Mike.
Well, you used to at the Golden Globes.
[Laughs.] Yeah, people don’t know, I always forget to tell people that when we hosted the Golden Globes, we decided who won.
Both yourself and Tina Fey are hosting SNL on December 19, I’m looking forward to that.
Yeah. Me, too.
And Bruce Springsteen will be there.
I’m really excited. It’s so cool to do a Christmas show, because you just kind of feel special to be in New York during that time. A lot of people don’t know something that Tina and I know: The cast is always in a very good mood because they’re about to get three weeks off. So, they are ready to party. And there’s a lot of family in the audience. There’s a lot of good cheer about, “We’ve got the first half of the season behind us and we’re all doing okay!” And then to have Bruce Springsteen there, which you know will feel like this really special thing.
I hope he plays “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
I hope he does! If he needs anyone on, like, a jingle bell, I’m there.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.